Dying Light’s Review Key Blunder, or: No More Embargoes!!!

By Marshall Garvey


Good…..GOD. Did they learn nothing from the debacle that was Assassin’s Creed: Unity?

Apparently not. For those who haven’t heard, Dying Light, Techland’s anticipated survival horror title, has hit an embarrassing snag just before its release tomorrow. After a declaration from lead designer Maciej Binkowski that the studio would be transparent in previewing their latest product, there are no reviews in time to be seen from an major source (not even IGN). The only thing approximating a review is an apparent deal a few YouTube channels made with the studio to share their insights and some footage from the game. And to make the breadth of what Binkowski said clear, here are his exact words when asked:

“No, we do not have embargoes of that nature. We want to be as transparent as we can towards our fans, so don’t worry – there won’t be any review embargoes before the game is released.”

It needs to be said loud and clear, without compromise: Whether it comes in a deliberate review embargo (one that prevents any critics from reviewing the game, like Ubisoft attempted), or as a result of sloppily handing out review keys too late, treating game critics like this is unacceptable. It’s a practice that is impossible to classify as anything other than unprofessional, dishonest, and frankly just pointless. Moreover, it indirectly broadcasts the embarrassing notion that, after all the hard work you’ve put into making your game, it likely isn’t worth playing.

Given my experience as a movie critic, some may make a fitting comparison to the trend of studios not screening certain films for critics in advance. This is such a common occurrence that it rarely raises controversy, and when it happens people (almost always rightly) assume the movie is a bona fide stinker that doesn’t need critical appraisal. But in my view, not handing out review keys for games is far more offensive and unprofessional. The main reason being that steering people the right way on games is much more economically vital than with movies. Simply put, buying a new video game costs up to 4-5 times more than seeing a new movie in theaters, and game consumers should have access to a wide arrange of opinions before choosing to spend that much on one product.

As it stands, Dying Light will technically have fared better than ACU by handing out review keys the day before release. But that only gave critics some 12 hours to fully assess the game, as opposed to keys for ACU finally being dragged out 12 hours after its official release. It doesn’t change the fact that, even after an explicit promise that there wouldn’t be anything approaching an embargo, Techland has made a mistake that could backfire against the game itself regardless of its quality. Striking a few deals with YouTube channels isn’t enough. Whether you like game criticism or not, letting others honestly assess your game like anything else for the good of consumers is, in the words of the wise philosopher Bruce Hornsby, just the way it is.

For more on the issue, here’s a good piece at Forbes that goes into more detail.

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Marshall Garvey is a graduate of UC Davis in history, and a gamer since third grade. He has many favorite games, among them “Batman: Arkham City,” “Zelda: Majora’s Mask,” “Resident Evil 4,” “All-Star Baseball 2001,” “Banjo Kazooie,” “Silent Hill 2,” “The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion,” and “Fallout: New Vegas,” among many others. His other interests include baseball, football, boxing, politics, music, movies, jogging, playing trombone, and writing, and he is a devoted fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Sacramento Kings, Minnesota Twins, and Oakland Athletics. He recently finished two tenures at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, CA, the first being as an intern at the National Archives wing and the second as a staff writer for the Nixon Foundation. Right now, he’s working on two books for the Sacramento Historical Society, one about the history of baseball in the city and the other about the Governor’s Mansion. He is also the creator of his own trading cards franchise, the United States Presidents Baseball Club, which can be visited at: www.presidentsbaseball.com. You can also see his writing about baseball at: www.brushbackpitch.com

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